Intro: For years, the bogies of the goods trains carrying food grains have been disappearing into thin air even as the authorities search for answers. An investigative report by Tehelka SIT
A goods train is running with speed on the railway track, carrying wheat and rice belonging to the Food Corporation of India [FCI]. It has to reach its destination after covering thousands of kilometers in two-three days. But after it reaches its destination, it is discovered that 40 coaches of this goods train are missing! This is neither a scene from a film nor a dream. It is a reality. For years, the goods train bogies carrying the FCI food grains have gone missing in India. We all have heard about the incidents of missing trucks, cars, motorbikes, tractors etc. But we have never heard stories of train bogies going missing which, incredibly, have been happening for years. But today, Tehelka with the help of its painstaking investigation done through several RTIs, is going to bring out the tales of missing goods train coaches in India. This type of investigation has not been done before, nor this kind of story has been heard so far.
Normally, the goods trains have 42 to 58 compartments. These are also called special trains and racks. Whenever these incidents of missing bogies occur, the FCI people start investigating the matter. The Indian Railway is also informed about it. The matter then gets sandwiched between FCI and Indian Railways. Both the departments start investigating this matter to unravel the mystery of missing train bogies. In some cases, it has been more than 35 years since the incident happened but the matter of missing bogies remains unresolved. When the FCI fails to get any clue of its missing wagons [containing wheat and rice], the department makes a case for compensation for the lost items before the Indian Railways.
According to the experts, one bogey carries nearly 60 tonnes of grains. There are various varieties of wheat and rice in our country. The cost of these grains are decided, according to the quality of wheat and rice that is loaded in the train. It is estimated that one bogie carries the goods costing at least Rs 15 to 20 lakh. Such incidents of missing coaches have been happening for years but it is only after the filing of RTIs since the last four years, that this matter has come out in the open. RTIs are still being filed in the courts.
Though this is a serious matter, very few zonal offices of FCI have come forward to report this matter. Till now, the RTIs have been filed on the basis of complaints of a few zonal offices only. The zonal offices of Guwahati have lodged more complaints as compared to others.
We all are familiar with cases of theft of vehicles such as cars and other small vehicles since our childhood, with many of us having dealt with it first hand. Everyday, cases of lost cars, bikes and other vehicles are registered in our country. But today, the story we are presenting before you will not only shock you but will also leave you bewildered. After reading this exclusive expose by Tehelka, you will be left wondering how theft of train coaches is even possible. Is it so easy to hide these huge iron boxes somewhere for so many years?. Who all are responsible for this crime, and where have these loaded bogies gone?
Goods trains on railway tracks are a familiar sight in India. Transportation of huge quantities of loads is mainly done through these trains. After going through the FCI website, we found that the transportation of wheat and rice is mainly done through goods trains. Though we have also seen these grains transported through roadways also, but the capacity is very low as compared to the goods trains. One can get complete data of this on the FCI website.
In the year 2021-22, the number of trains that carried wheat and rice grains from one place to another were 39773. There are five zonal offices of FCI: North-East, East Zone, South Zone, North Zone and West Zone. All these special goods trains went to these zones only. The number of special trains that reached the North East zone were 2333 while 15762 were sent to the North zone.
The missing 40 coaches
As per the RTI which was filed in this case on 14 June, 2022, the North-East zonal office of FCI situated at Guwahati filed the missing wagons complaint. According to the information provided by them, on 21st June 2003, one special train/rack number/23/342612 (KNN) left the Khanna railway station in Punjab for (NBQ) new Bongaigaon junction in Assam. This special train carried rice in bulk. Every coach carried around 1156 to 1184 big racks of rice. The weight of one bag was around 50 kg. The secret code of KNN to NBQ was mentioned on these trains. Though the information provided by the FCI does not make it clear as to how many total coaches the train had, it was only after the train had reached Assam that it was discovered that forty coaches of this goods train had gone missing. The number of some missing coaches like SC-38655, SE-108285 and SR-181117 etc are mentioned in the RTIs.
143 coaches go missing in a year
On 14 June, 2022, an RTI was filed in this regard, and the information provided in it clearly states that 143 racks from the goods trains that reached the North East zone in 2003-04, were found missing. Of these, 132 coaches contained rice while 11 were loaded with wheat. More than 17 years have passed since but there is no clue to these lost coaches so far, the Guwahati division says.
The North-East zonal office of FCI, Guwahati, has given a complete list of lost coaches in the RTI from 2000-01 to 2005-06. The list is mentioned below:
- 2000-01 – This year, 66 coaches of grains failed to reach their destination, of which 59 were of rice and seven were of wheat. On 1st December 2000, 16 coaches were found missing from a special train with number RR03/054367. Each bogie carried 620-639 bags of rice with each bag weighing 95 kg .
- 2001-02 – This year, 68 coaches were found missing from the special trains, of which 54 were loaded with rice and the remaining 14 with wheat. On 3rd September 2001, 20 coaches could not be traced, and they all went missing at the same time. The number of this special train
which lost 20 of its coaches was RR13/211770. Every coach carried 610 to1158 bags of rice and these bags were of different weights of 50kg, 75kg and 95 kg.
- 2002-03 – This year, 111 coaches failed to reach their destination, in which 99 were of rice while 12 bogies were of wheat. On 21st June 2002, 11 coaches were found missing all together. The number of this special train was RR04/119643. Every coach carried 1162 to 1195 bags of rice, with each weighing 50 kg. The same year on 1 August, 11 coaches were found missing from another special train with number RR 08/138029. Every coach had 1097 to 1204 bags of rice with each weighing 50 kg. On August 2, 2002, 11 bogies of another train with number RR15/211921 went missing. Each bogie carried 742-758 bags of rice with each weighing 75kg. On November 9, 2002, 12 coaches of yet another special train were found missing, with every bogie carrying 884 to 1180 bags of rice and each bag weighing 75kg .
4. 2003-04 – Around 143 bogies (132 of rice and 11 of wheat) were found missing during this year. On 21st June 2003, there was no clue to 40 coaches of the special train (RR 23/342612), which was carrying around 1156 to 1184 bags of rice grains in it, with each bag weighing nearly 50 kg.
- 2004-2005 – This year also, 96 bogies of a goods train were found missing, in which 83 were of rice while the remaining 13 contained wheat. Eighteen coaches of the special train (RR06/030994) disappeared with around 1163 to 1186 bags of rice in it.
- 2005-2006 – This year, 28 coaches of a special train went missing with 23 bogies of rice and 5 bogies of wheat.
- 2006-07- This year, seven coaches disappeared with four of rice and three of wheat grains.
The above mentioned list gives us an idea of how serious this theft is and how difficult it is to resolve this matter. The details of all such missing coaches are registered with FCI. Their documents carry all details of this so-called theft. After doing research on their end, the FCI departments file the complaint with the Indian Railways. Top officials of both the departments sit together and discuss the matter. This is called a reconciliation meeting. In this meeting, concerned officers of both the departments discuss the details of missing coaches of special trains and the food grains that are being transported through this route. After the reconciliation meeting and mutual understanding, the FCI files a complaint with Indian railways of the lost /missing coaches, and demands compensation for their lost food stocks. Details of such data is given below.
The first meeting of Indian railways officers and zonal office Guwahati was held on May 3,
2005, at the Chief Commercial Manager’s (claim) office at Malegaon. The officers from FCI who attended the meeting were Joint Manager Movement ML Solanki, AG first (D) and SB Sharma while deputy CCM (Claim), SK Karmakar and CIG Guha Rai represented the Railways. The agenda of this meeting was to discuss the 220 coaches of rice and 46 bogies of wheat that went missing in the year 1996-98. This matter was further sent for reconciliation.
On April 13, 2005 also a meeting was held between railways and zonal officers Guwahati , at the Chief Commercial Manager’s office, Malegaon. The agenda of this meeting was to discuss the missing coaches from the year 1986 to1996, which carried around 5100 rice bags and 2178 bags of wheat. The data was discussed till 28 December 2004 only. This meeting was attended by Manager Movement M L Solanki, AG first (D) and S B Sharma from FCI and deputy
CCM (Claim), S K Karmakar and CIA Chattopadhyaya from the Railways.
After that on 22 February 2007 also, one such meeting was held between the railways officials and FCI’s zonal officers (Guwahati). The agenda of this meeting was to discuss the wagons which had gone missing between 2000-01 and 2004-05. Four hundred and twenty seven wagons of rice and 57 wagons of wheat were found missing during this period. The officers from FCI who attended the meeting were Joint Manager Movement M L Solanki, AG first (D) S B Sharma and AG second (M) R N Dutta. From the Railway, S K Karmakar and CEO A K Prasad took part in the meeting held at Chief Commercial Manager’s (claim) office at Malegaon.
FCI’s N-E zone most vulnerable
The RTI that has been filed in the missing wagons case reveals that from the year 2000-2001 to 2004-05, around 500 wagons of food grains have disappeared, of which most wagons were loaded with rice. According to the RTI, the FCI and the Railway officers have been discussing more than 5.5K missing wagons till now. In the details that we got from our sources and the RTI, the North-East FCI zone has lodged most complaints about missing wagons till date.
List of missing wagons
According to the RTI, on 3 December 2021, the regional office of FCI, Karnataka, filed a claim of 54 wagons to the Indian Railways. These 54 wagons had gone missing during the intervening period between 2015 and 2020. Apart from this in another RTI, the FCI officers have lodged a complaint of four more missing wagons of rice, from February 28, 2019 to March 20, 2019. The RTI says that the West Zone Mumbai office (FCI) has given the missing wagons information to them on 20 May. On 15 March, 2011, the officials of FCI West Zone, Mumbai, and Railways officers held a meeting in Mumbai to discuss the matter of missing wagons. This meeting was attended by M L Sehgal (GM Movement), KK Barua (DGM Movement), B K Tyagi (AGM Movement), Kamna Gyan (Manager Movement) from FCI and S R Sethi (TC claim), Virendra Kumar, (SO) TC third and Anil Kumar Gupta, CMI from the Railways. In this meeting, the missing wagon cases from 1986-96 to 1996-2000 were discussed mainly. In this regard, meetings at Mumbai, Goa, Mysore and Kolkata had already been conducted. In all, 51 wagons were found missing. Fifteen wagons went missing during 1986-96 only of which 10 were of wheat and 5 were of rice. During the period 1996-2000, around 36 wagons went missing, 20 of wheat and 16 of rice.
In an another RTI of 13 March 2019, we found that West Zone office of the FCI has made a claim
to the Railways for five missing wagons. On 25 February 2004, one wagon with number ER 39873 (BCXT) in special train (396427) carried 1098 bags. The cost of the grains was around 3.34 lakh. This train had left Ferozpur, Punjab for Gondia in Maharashtra. On 15 July 2018, a special train with number 2620000366 became the target, with its three wagons, WN ECOR74377, WR18115, NWR96310 carrying 1155, 1150 and 1149 bags of food grains having gone missing. The cost of the grains was 39.19 lakh approximately. This train had left Narwana in Haryana for Baramati in Maharashtra.
On 21 July, 2018 another wagon with number FCRO42692 of special train (262000360) that carried 1274 bags left Safidon in Haryana for Parli in Maharashtra but vanished into thin air before it reached its destination. The cost of grains was around 14.23 lakh.
- Various such missing wagon incidents had occurred in Kerala also, but the Kolam district of Kerala had not lodged any such complaint. It was only when RTI activists appealed to them that they came forward and filed a case of one missing wagon with number NWR BCNA 10994. This information was provided on 10 April 2019 and the wagon was missing from 22 February 2019. There were 1269 bags of food grains (No details were provided whether these bags were of wheat or rice).
According to the RTI, the zonal office of Chennai said that till 28 February 2019, two wagons of food grains costing Rs 30.45 lakh had gone missing. They also said that in the last six years, 2503 metric tonnes of wheat and rice had been ruined during transportation. But how did the food grains get damaged and have the lost wagons recovered? No such information has been provided by them.
- On 13 March 2019, the regional office of Bhubaneswar, gave information about one missing wagon SE 98210 from a special train with number 26000702. This wagon was missing from 29th April 2018 and carried food grains of 63.32 metric tonnes in 1275 bags. The cost of the grains was nearly 17.80 lakh.
- According to the Area officer of FCI Gurdaspur, Punjab, on 30 July 2018, the wagon SNF ABCNA 60056, as part of a special train with number RR 150, was on its way to West Bengal from Gurdaspur. But when this special train reached its destination, this wagon was not found. There are no details about the food grains the train was carrying. The FCI wagon was still missing when RTI was being filed. They were summoned to Kolkata. The FCI’s regional office of Kolkata was also asked to provide the information of missing wagons. But the officials replied with a letter stating there was no such information with them. Citing an Act, they were summoned to Kolkata to give details, the RTI says.
Case under CBI scanner
On 9 February, 2018, the Patna office of the CBI registered an FIR (RC 02320180004). This FIR was registered by the Chief Vigilance Officer of Eastern Railways. Referring to the second appeal of the RTI, the Railway Ministry has said that the FIR registered at RPF post Jamalpur, West Bengal, clearly states that 86 wagons of the special trains were missing. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is now investigating this missing wagon case. In the CBI’s FIR, the number of missing wagons are 100 and their cost is around 34 crore. Though the railway is not using these wagons now. These wagons are now at another site of railways i.e. Dhobighat where repairing is conducted. As per Tehelka sources, the wheels and other parts of these wagons have been removed.
Some cases hang fire for 33 yrs
It is really surprising to know that such a huge number of wagons have been missing for so many years and still there is no clue to their whereabouts.
It has been a long span of more than 32-33 years but there is still no trace of the missing wagons. The information shocks you and makes you laugh at the same time. How could some of the wagons disappear when the entire train is running on its track? After all these are huge iron boxes and it would be impossible for anyone to take them away as if it is a walk in the park. That there is no clue to the wagons that disappeared in the period between 1987 and 2019, is baffling to say the least.
According to the RTI, one wagon with number ERC22283 of a special train (RR310625) which was supposed to go to Ernakulam, Kerala from Chattisgarh was also missing. This special train was loaded with 24.5 metric tonnes of 256 bags of rice. Surprisingly, FCI’s claim is still pending with the railways.
Sugar stock worth Rs 48 cr goes missing
The FCI not only transports wheat and rice but other food grains and food stocks as well. These are also sent to other states by special trains. Earlier, the FCI also transported stocks of sugar to the other states. Like wheat and rice, the wagons of sugar were also used to be sent from one state to another. There have also been cases of sugar wagons having gone missing, and the zonal office of North East has already given details in this regard in the RTI.
From the year 1984-85 to 1994-95 many special trains with sugar stocks were sent to the North East zones but some of the wagons failed to reach the destination. FCI has sent many written complaints to the railway about their loss but did not receive any satisfactory reply. On 24th March, 2015, FCI sent another letter to the railway reminding them about a claim of Rs 48.18 crore. The zonal office of FCI is still in discussion with the railway, but has failed to get any satisfactory reply so far. The RTI says eight wagons of sugar have been the missing since 1993-1997, the details of
which are enclosed in the letter sent to the railway on 1 January, 2008.
What could be the possible reasons?
According to the Railway sources, the reason behind missing wagons cases could be heating or over heating of axle boxes. Hot axle box in a railway vehicle occurs when inadequate wheel bearing lubrication causes an increase in temperature. If undetected, the bearing temperature can continue to rise, until there is a bearing “burn off” which may cause derailment or fire. So this could be the reason that some wagons are detached from these special trains, but we can’t deny the possibility that under the cover of the hot axle phenomenon, some more wagons could also have been removed.
According to the experts, the railway keeps record of all the trains that are running on tracks or laying in yards. These records are maintained by a department of Indian Railways named CRIS. They keep track of all its trains online. They are aware of all the routes of trains; when these trains reach their destination; and when the special trains are loaded and unloaded. When everything is maintained online it is hard to imagine how these wagons of special trains could get disconnected. But equally baffling is the possibility of such incredible thefts taking place.
When contacted for his comments, Rajiv Jain, ADG Railway, PIB denied having any knowledge of missing train bogies. According to him, as the matter has been brought to his knowledge by us, so he would gather information from all the Railway zones, for which he said he needs time. When contacted after a few days, he said he is still waiting for the information from the zones. But thereafter he never took our calls nor responded to us on whatsapp.
On the other hand, when the Food Corporation of India [FCI ] Public Relation Officer [PRO] D.P. Shukla was contacted in FCI head office in Delhi for his version, he said, “Whenever we receive a complaint of missing wagons, we immediately inform railway about this, and the railway starts investigating the matter on its end. If wagons are traced, then the railway and FCI jointly examine those wagons. The food grains kept in the wagons are checked: whether its quantity is the same or not. Quality of the food grains is also checked: whether it is of the same good quality or some decay has occurred. And if the food grains show some decay, then a report is prepared as to what percentage of decay has occurred. On the other hand, if the railway doesn’t find the missing wagons, then we follow the procedure and file a missing wagons claim with the railway”.
So, Tehelka has unearthed the story of missing bogies from the goods trains in India. We have seen fans and light fixtures going missing from railway coaches. Even wash basins have been stolen at times. But this is a strange case where bogies of goods trains, carrying FCI food grains are found to be mysteriously missing for years. So the next time you watch any goods train, do not be surprised if you see fewer coaches than usual. The missing goods train bogies have become a big mystery in India.